"We're here to defend democracy, not to practice it."


(by Christian Leuprecht, Bicentennial Visiting Associate Professor in Canadian Studies at Yale University)

Armed forces around the world are curiously apprehensive about diversity. When prodded, the ubiquitous response by those in uniform is: "We're here to defend democracy, not to practice it." Implicit in this claim is the proposition in an allegedly inherent contradiction: That mounting an effective defence of the democratic way of life and its fundamental values of freedom, equality, and justice requires undemocratic practices that skirt these values.

The proposition is interesting insofar that it lends itself to being tested empirically. Is it true that, the defence establishment's effectiveness somehow correlates inversely with women, visible minorities (or racialized minorities to use the recent UN rebranding of the term), religious minorities, linguistic minorities, sexual minorities, and persons with disabilities being kept out of the armed services altogether, relegated to non-combat roles, or forced to relinquish critical aspects of their identity if they want to join the organization?

In other words, the effective defence of democracy should remain the purview of able-bodied straight white males.

Setting aside the empirical evidence for a moment, the claim suffers from a fatal flaw: It confuses facts with values, for you can't logically infer what "ought" to be from what "is".

To be fair, of course, today's armed forces are not just composed of able-bodied straight white males. They do, however, constitute a majority of the force, especially among the senior officer corps. The American armed forces would like to think of themselves as diverse but a quick look at its composition reveals an over-representation of African Americans and Hispanics to the detriment of just about all other minority groups in American society.

Is this under-representation, which is prevalent throughout the world's democracies, not puzzling? The armed forces, of course, are part of the administrative part of government. Notwithstanding paying lip service to diversity, democratic governments are surprisingly unrepresentative of the societies they service.

Due to immigration and higher fertility among immigrants and certain minorities, it turns out that government is actually losing ground! This does not bode well for the armed forces becoming more representative of the societies they serve.

Hitherto, a good deal of the debate has focused on the ethical merits of diversity: It's the "right thing to do". It is about time to inject some facts into the story. It turns out that there are good political, economic, demographic, legal-constitutional and societal reasons and evidence in support of greater diversity in the armed forces.

That's aside from the fact that, far from hindering operational effectiveness, there is convincing evidence to suggest that diversity actually enhances it.

Empirical evidence from an array of countries and missions is examined in the most recent issue of the UK's oldest journal in comparative politics, Commonwealth and Comparative Politics 47(4) which is also forthcoming summer 2010 as a book with Routledge.

These publications constitute the first systematic effort at weighing the evidence for leveraging diversity in support of enhancing the armed forces' functional imperative.


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